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How Neon Indian Disrupted and Grounded My Life

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Okay, full disclosure; I’m supposed to be writing an article for Hi-Fi Lives about the new Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks record. Actually, I originally planned on finishing it about 4 weeks ago, but…something else came along and changed things.

I could go on for hours complaining about the myriad of academic stuff I should be spending my time knocking out. I’m also moving at the end of this week, so I should probably be filling and sealing the boxes creating a labyrinth of obstacles around my house. The backlog of podcasts that I normally would’ve listened to by now is starting to collect well beyond what I’ll be able to get to before their timeliness expires. My August consisted of 2 funerals and a wedding. There’re plenty of other things on which I could be spending my cognitive energy, right? Instead, I have to take the time to explain the nuances of a record, to which I absolutely cannot stop listening, to the internet. It has simultaneously disrupted my life and grounded me to a place where I can focus on the things that need to get done. Thanks a lot (meant both sarcastically and sincerely) Neon Indian

Calling back to previous articles I’ve written about the serendipitous nature that comes along with modern album releases, as well as my article about the affective nature of music in the fall: The new Neon Indian record, Era Extraña, hits both of these beats. I knew the record would be released at some point in the fall, but I’m not diligent enough to remember, or search for, release dates unless there’re multiple things happening on that day to give me an unrelated point of reference. In short, I’m terrible with dates. Discovering this album’s availability amongst the new releases of the day, when I wasn’t expecting it for another month or so, added an extra element of excitement to my already high level of anticipation.

About the autumn release thing; yes, I have a feeling that this will be remembered as a part of my soundtrack of this year, and it’s not the first time Neon Indian’s done this to me. I happened upon the initial release from Neon Indian, Psychic Chasms, literally en route to my modest Tuesday night DJ gig back in October of ‘09. I was so moved by the tonal atmosphere of legitimate synth-pop which sounded like it was being played on a warped cassette that the patrons of the club that night were subjected to my own personal game of “How many songs can I get away with playing off of this record without it being obvious?”

I should elaborate on the aforementioned “warped cassette” aspect. I think there’s something particularly significant to the instant nostalgia that comes along with the batch of chillwave acts that have popped up in the past few years (e.g. Toro Y Moi, Small Black, Washed Out, etc). Those of us born in the late 70’s and early 80’s were more or less the first generation to grow up hearing synthesizers as a normal aspect of pop music. The use of analog synths and antiquated technology are the new low-fi standard, so these type of acts elicit a nostalgic response even though the songs are new. We’re also familiar with the phenomenon of leaving one’s tapes in the car or outside by the jam box in the heat long enough to alter the sound quality. To this day, when I listen to Radiohead’s The Bends, I still expect particular parts of “High and Dry” and “Black Star” to emit those same three-second backward and warbled bits that occurred where the magnetic tape in my copy somehow switched polarities (as they were on opposite sides of the cassette).

There’s another technical aspect of this record that evokes a feeling of neo-nostalgia. A great deal of the melodies on this record come from synthesizers that are looped and/or arpeggiated rather than played out manually. This is nothing new, of course, but it does a lot to negate the old argument that these technical tools take the emotional element out of music. I think I’m also in that first generation of music listeners that’s become so accustomed to automation that there’s an element of soul bleeding through the electricity.

Ironically, the tone of this record reminds me a lot of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, which was constructed–with great pride back in 1991–without the use of synthesizers. It’s easily one of my favorite records of all time. However, very similar emotional tones rhyme between Loveless and Era Extraña, in spite of their juxtaposed composition methods. The similarity is probably what’s made Era Extraña so compelling and has placed it in a state of constant repeat on my iPod. It’s something close to my heart, where music belongs–simultaneously new and familiar. I feel as if these types of records are an example of history proving wrong a popular opinion of the past.

Look, my life at the moment is completely in flux. The only consistent piece on which I’ve had to ground myself has been this record. As disruptive as it’s been to my listening habits, it’s comforting to have something that remains constant during the upheaval. I needed Era Extraña more than I realized. Sure; things are finally starting to settle a bit, I probably should finish some of the many projects on my plate, and the new DJ Shadow, Mayer Hawthorne, and J. Cole records are burning a hole in my iTunes. It’s probably time to move on…but maybe just another listen or two wouldn’t hurt…cheers…


Find more artists like Neon Indian at Myspace Music.

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“Lie” — David Cook

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I have a confession.

I watched seasons 2-9 of American Idol. I watch Glee, The Voice, The Sing-Off, and pretty much any other show about singing, singers, and/or performing songs. I can list a host of reasons with varying levels of acceptability—procrastination, dislike of watching sporting events, and boredom, among others—but what it boils down to is this: I miss it. I miss performing, and watching others do so helps me relive those incredible experiences.

That’s how I found David Cook, seventh-season winner of American Idol. As soon as his first post-Idol album was released, I bought it on iTunes, fully expecting to love it. I wasn’t disappointed.

I’ll save the raw, heartbreaking passion in “Permanent” for a later post, perhaps, because I’d like to focus on his song “Lie” from that self-titled album.

You whisper that you are getting tired
Got a look in your eye
Looks a lot like goodbye

I knew this would be the perfect break-up song. In an instant, this song still transports me to the exact moment I knew my ex would break up with me . . . or the moment, many years before that, when I broke up with my first high-school boyfriend. That *look* is timeless—and it’s captured perfectly in these simple words.

You’re hiding regret in your smile
There’s a storm in your eyes
I’ve seen coming for a while
Hang on to the past tense tonight
Don’t say a word
I’m okay with the quiet
The truth is gonna change everything

This part always reminds me of that deep-down, sinking, gut feeling I have when I know I’m about to hear bad news. I’ve often wondered if David Cook and the other songwriters could somehow hear my inner monologues. See, even when I know awful news, know it deep-down with a terrified certainty, I’ve always sought ways to postpone acknowledging it. I really am okay with the quiet . . . because in it, I am able to lie to myself.

So lie to me and tell me that it’s gonna be all right
So lie to me and tell me that we’ll make it through the night
I don’t mind if you wait before you tear me apart
Look me in the eye
And lie, lie, lie

Please.

I know that there’s no turning back
If we put too much light on this
We’ll see through all the cracks
Let’s stay in the dark one more night

This image is, in fact, a metaphor: their relationship is an item with a seemingly solid surface that reveals hidden flaws when illuminated. Again, he asks not to be forced to acknowledge these—he wants to stay in the dark. I can certainly appreciate that impulse.

Don’t want to believe in this ending
Let the cameras roll on
Keep pretending
Tomorrow’s all wrong
If you walk away
Just stay

To me, the significance of this song reaches far beyond the surface relationship implications. It lies instead in my own fear of the unknown. My past actions have proven that sometimes I’d rather stay with something known—even if I’m not happy—than try something new: a new city, a new job, a new apartment, a new way of life. The unknown feels “all wrong” to me . . . even when the known does, too.

So lie to me and tell me that we’re gonna be okay
So lie to me and tell me that we’ll make it through the day
I don’t mind if you wait before you tear me apart
To look me in the eye
And lie, lie, lie

Fittingly, I think, the music simply tapers off after this final plea. There’s no sweeping conclusion, no witty couplet that explains how the illusion can continue. The lies just can’t last forever; that’s the point. Sooner or later, the truth will look him (and me, and, in fact, all of us) in the eye. Despite the hauntingly beautiful pleas, it’s apparent that we all have to find a way to face that truth, live through the pain of it, and move on.


Find more artists like David Cook at Myspace Music.